Asa placed a sprig of sage and two pennies in the ghost’s hand. He pulled his pocket knife out and slid the blade across the palm of his hand. Asa winced. Droplets of blood pooled then fell into the ghost’s hand. It clutched its fist, then smiled.
“What would you have me do?”
“I want you to kill a man in the inn.”
The ghost’s grin widened.
“Give me a name.”
With a cackle, the ghost floated away.
He looked down at his hand, the wound there already puffy and burning. He walked slowly towards the inn, his heart pounding in his chest.
“Anhysbys,” Asa said, and walked through the door. He passed by the crowd in the bar undetected. He ascended the stairs just as a scream echoed through the hall. Asa ran to Dauphin’s room and threw the door open.
The Witchfinder General lay sprawled on the ground. His legs bent towards each other. His thumbs pointed opposite his body. His face was caved in. A growing puddle of blood seeped from his wounds.
The ghost was on its knees, lapping at the blood. When it realized Asa was there it turned to him and grinned. It floated out of the room and passed Asa just as the innkeeper and several guests reached the door. Asa stepped out of the way as they shoved themselves into the room.
The innkeeper knelt down. He didn’t bother checking for a pulse, for the assault on the Witchfinder General was too severe.
“Who would do this?” the innkeeper asked.
“It had to be one of Fabienne’s clients, or one of the Mannings, reckoning for her death,” said the town blacksmith.
“I’ll bet it was Owain; that son of a bitch was too quiet during the funeral. I’ll bet he was planning this the whole time. You know those Druidic bastards are sneaky.”
“I can’t believe Owain would be dumb enough to do something like this; he knows magic isn’t accepted around here anymore,” said another guest.
“Well, perhaps we ought to teach him a lesson,” the blacksmith said.
There was silence in the room as the men seemed to come to some silent agreement. Nausea bubbled up in Asa’s belly as he realized what the men were planning to do. He followed them down the stairs and out the door, and when he set foot on the gravel street, he ran.
He reached his home within minutes and ran to the back of the house. He flung open the door and, remembering that he was still invisible, said “hysbys,” and stepped into the kitchen.
Esther sat at the table sipping tea and reading over runes. She didn’t look up at him, but Asa could tell from her voice that she knew something was wrong.
“Do I need to lie for you?”
She turned towards him. “Do I need to lie for you, brother?”
Asa breathed deep and tried to quell his overactive heart.
Esther nodded towards the stairs. Asa barely got to the first landing when he heard the banging on the door. His father descended the stairs and when he saw Asa before him, he stiffened and his eyes narrowed.
The banging got louder, more urgent. Owain opened the door as Esther ran in from the kitchen.
“Owain,” said the innkeeper. He said the name like it was poison.
“How can I help you gentlemen?”
“The Witchfinder General, Dauphin Robicheaux, was found murdered not twenty minutes ago.”
“May God rest his soul,” Owain said. Asa winced.
The innkeeper was unconvinced of his father’s religiosity.
“Well, you see, someone wasn’t too concerned about this man’s body or soul. His face was caved in, his limbs bent, and there were no pennies left.”
Owain was silent. He stared at the innkeeper and the men behind him.
“We know it was you who did it,” shouted the blacksmith.
“Yeah, you’re the only one left in Felice who’s got that power,” shouted another bystander. By now there seemed to be at least twenty men and women standing at their door, demanding his father’s head. Esther stepped behind Asa. She gripped his shoulder, causing him to turn.
She was rage and indignation when she looked at him.
“It was you,” she whispered.
Anxiety weaved through his body, churning his stomach and clutching his lungs so that he could barely breathe. A dull ache started behind his eyes. The wound on his hand pulsated, but he only clenched his fists harder. Asa’s father stepped out of the door into the night.
The missionaries rode up on their horses. Solomon was the first to dismount. When the crowd saw him, they stepped aside and let the elder man pass. His movements were languid and his face was serene. He placed a hand on Owain’s shoulder, something meant for comfort, but Asa was terrified by the man’s serenity.
“Owain Manning,” Solomon said. “My apologies for this intrusion on your home.”
“What do you want, missionary?” Owain replied.
Solomon flinched at the vitriol in Owain’s voice.
“That poor man at the inn has lost his life. We must put the culprit to justice… surely you can understand? Surely you know why these fine members of this town would suspect you?”
“If you think I’d be foolish enough to kill the man who condemned my wife to death on the same day of her burial, then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
His father glanced at Asa, and he blushed under his scrutiny.
Solomon smiled, but to Asa the motion looked too forced. He was like a skeleton attempting to look like a living human.
“Let’s not speak falsely, here, Owain. We all know that your wife wasn’t the only one with magics. I have it on good authority that your family is the last in this town to still practice.”
Owain scoffed. “Bullshit. Most people in Felice have a magical inclination – whether that’s full-blown witchery or just heightened intuition. They’re all too afraid to practice because they’ve bought in to your Christian idea that says they’re going to hell. Tell me – if the devil really existed as you imagine him, why is it that the Catholic church didn’t mention him until the 1300’s? Why is it that there are so many versions of your bible?”
The second missionary dismounted and strode towards Owain.
“You will show the Lord some respect, you heathen!”
The crowd gasped. Solomon turned to the second missionary and calmed him.
“There’s no need for hysterics over the ravings of an apostate.”
“Not everyone is pleased with your god taking up residence in this town,” Owain said.
“Enough of this,” said Solomon. Gone was his languid demeanor. He was impatient, and he fixed his angry gaze on Owain. “You will atone for your sins, sir. Either way you’ll be taken to the Limb, you might as well go with a free conscience.”
Owain looked at Asa.
His gaze was a multitude of emotions, and Asa knew what his father was thinking. He wondered how his son could be so foolish. He languished under the insurgence of the church. He wondered if his family would ever be able to practice magic again.
“I’ll not bury two people I love in a fortnight,” his father had said. Asa’s silence meant his father’s death. Surely he couldn’t bare to lose two people he loved? Was he selfish enough to condemn his father?